Mr. Chair, I am telling my colleagues that I will not be able to support this amendment. We must recall that, in the 1996 reform, major cuts were made to employment insurance. At that time, to be eligible for EI, you needed 150 hours at 15 hours per week. The real victim of the sweeping changes made in 1996 by the Liberal government of the time was seasonal industry. Not only were the workers in that industry ineligible, but the industry also lost many people who could no longer work in areas like fishing, forestry or tourism.
In tourism, for example, the situation in my province is not like in Toronto or Vancouver where there are tourists year-round. In New Brunswick, the tourist season starts when school is out in the middle of June and ends after National Acadian Day on August 15. According to Statistics Canada data, only 32% of women who contribute to employment insurance are eligible. One of the reasons is that women often work 20 hours per week. So they can never reach the 910 hours that are required, not even 840 hours.
On a cross-country tour, I remember the case of a woman in Vancouver who fell ill after three years in the workforce. She fell into a coma and was hospitalized for 10 days. Afterwards, she did not work for about three months. When she went to claim employment insurance, she had accumulated 698 hours. She needed two more hours to be eligible. Since that time, the government has reduced the requirements from 700 to 600 hours. Even so, even at 600 hours, there are still people who do not qualify.
As to the bill, I appreciate that the department has finally provided the costs for us to study. Even so, there is a surplus of $57 billion in the employment insurance account. The government now wants to create a Crown corporation in order to legalize the theft of $57 billion dollars from the employment insurance account. That money belongs to workers, to employers and to businesses. Employment insurance exists in order to help people who run into difficulties when they lose their jobs.
For all those reasons, I will not be able to support the Liberals' amendment. A bill dealing with this issue has already been adopted, a Bloc bill where this understanding was already presented. This bill goes to the heart of employment insurance, that is, whether people qualify or not. We can make all the changes we like to employment insurance, but if people do not qualify, they do not qualify. I often hear western Canadians say that people just have to go out west to work.
Another experience we have involving the workers going to the west to work is that, for example, if a person leaves home to work in Alberta—and there are real examples of this—and has an accident on the job, he cannot stay there, because he was working and staying in the camp. He will go back to New Brunswick, for example, and after that, compensation will say, “I'm not going to pay you”, or “I'm going to stop your payment”. It's pretty hard for him to go back to Alberta to fight this case, because we don't have ways of dealing with these situations across all the provinces. It's pretty hard for people, and it doesn't fit all situations with justice.
It's not the answer, that all should go and work in Alberta. We want to save our area. We want people to stay in our region and be able to create economic development. If you don't want reliance on employment insurance, you must work on economic development. Put people to work, and automatically they will be off employment insurance. I say nobody's lazy in our country. We have very good Canadians all across the country.
I grabbed the flight on Monday morning, for example. I think there were probably only six of us on the plane flying on business. The other 30 people on the plane were all going to Alberta to work, and that's every day. They go for twenty days in, eight days out. People are going to work in Alberta, but we can't force everybody to go there. We don't want to move the Atlantic to Alberta.
At the same time, as a country we have to support each other to be able to create this atmosphere of job creation, of economic development and good jobs—not just minimum-wage jobs—where people feel good: they can go to work in the morning and feel very proud of what they have done and can feed their families and be happy. That's what Canada is all about.
This has hurt working people, and that's why I say I cannot support this. I think if we don't go this way, it's a deportation of the Atlantic to other places in the country, and it is just not acceptable.
And it's not only the Atlantic. If you go to northern Ontario.... I went to Hearst, I went to Kapuskasing, I went to Timmins. They have the same problems there too when they lose their jobs, with some of the seasonal work when the mills close down and those types of jobs, or in tourism.